This year my Grand Lodge will be involved in a major struggle for power at its Grand Session. So once again I am dismayed at the way Freemasonry is headed.
What is lacking is a Freemasonry focusing strongly on its message. The key words here are research, education, instruction, reading, scholarship and discussion. Oh we have some of that but very little. You can find a Research Lodge here and there and maybe an esoteric society if you look hard. But the majority of the Craft is doing something else other than learning about the organization to which they belong.
In the absence of scholarship and study what do Freemasons do? Released from the duty of learning and applying a philosophy, a way of life, they take up their time in vying for office, honors and titles. Years are spent in politicking, networking and implementing the pet projects of those ahead of them, so that they can climb the ladder to the next level. But the next level is not attained by any increase in one’s knowledge or understanding of the Craft.
Consequently much of Freemasonry is governed by leaders who couldn’t pass a simple test about their fraternity.
But that is not how it is supposed to be. Freemasonry derives much of its thought from the Ancient Mysteries. In fact some Masonic scholars contend that there has been from long before Christ a certain body of knowledge that builds a better understanding of life that has been passed down from generation to generation through various and sundry organizations. Most of the Ancient Mysteries ran “Mystery Schools.” And the focus of their efforts was directed towards learning and study. Pythagoras is a good example of one who taught a philosophy, a way of life, in the true Gnostic tradition, that is a body of knowledge that the masses were not privy to. Leaders were those, then, that had attained a certain level of scholastic achievement. The goal was to progress to a higher soul level – from knowledge to wisdom to soul development.
The modern day Masonic strategy to grow the Craft, is to turn Freemasonry into a charity, and in many cases a slave to Institutionalized charity. When not jockeying for position, Masons are consuming enormous time and effort in what they characterize as the betterment of humankind, but only if it offers some payback in return. The idea here is to gain notoriety and publicity through work in the community and also to prove that critics, who say that Freemasonry is some secret society only concerned with itself not giving a dam about society, are wrong. But when it becomes a way to buy and bribe friends, impress and convince the uninitiated that we really are a good organization to join, the morality becomes suspect.
The sad part of all this is that it doesn’t work. You don’t get a large number of candidates from marketing Freemasonry. The real way to grow Freemasonry is through its message. If Freemasons would regard themselves primarily as a philosophy and a tool for personal development instead of a charity and a tool for personal prestige then it would be successful in attracting new members. It never ceases to amaze me that Masons think they can sell Masonry by turning themselves into slaves for all those in need. What does that do for an individual looking into the Craft? The strength of Freemasonry is its ability to inspire and motivate members and to give them an understanding of how to live a rewarding and satisfying life that will leave a memorable legacy behind. This is something that Freemasonry can do for them rather than offering them, a life of service to others. All of this is found in the philosophy and teachings of this wonderful fraternity. But in order to sell that and teach that, passing it on to others, one has to study and understand what Freemasonry is all about and what it has to offer. If we will do that we will draw people like a magnet.
Picture a Christian church that runs a food pantry, mans a soup kitchen and does all sorts of community work (charity) and offers a weekly worship service (ritual-degrees) but never talks about or studies the Gospel, the good news, or mentions Jesus Christ – no Bible study, no Sunday school, no discussion groups. That’s where Freemasonry is at today.
The result of this path of destruction is constant power plays and Masonic purges. The Frank Haas, Derek Gordon, Mike McCabe stories are just the tip of the iceberg. All across this nation Freemasons are being expelled and the charter of Lodges pulled in record numbers because those involved are perceived as some sort of political threat to those in power. What has been created in the United States, are 51 fiefdoms, 51 monopolies, accountable to no one else who have all agreed to support each other no matter what the other has done, no matter how heinous the crime. And all 51 have a pact that if you are thrown out of one Grand Lodge you are thrown out of them all. There is no place for the unjustly treated to go. What you have is a system that is incapable of rendering justice, one of the Four Cardinal Virtues. If you lead a reform movement in your Grand Lodge you will be expelled. If you publish a paper where you express disagreement with your Grand Master’s policies you will be expelled. One Grand Lodge will even go so far as to prohibit its members from Masonically conversing via E-Mail. Another will not admit you if you work in the liquor business, another if you are missing an arm or a leg. And we haven’t even touched the race issue.
The mess is that we have too many versions of Freemasonry floating around and too many Grand Lodges violating their member’s rights as guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States. What is Freemasonry? Well it depends on what state you are in. You can own a McDonald’s franchise but you can’t change the product. But American Freemasonry can. The result of this mess is that there are no standards to be kept. Freemasonry is whatever any of the 51 Grand Lodges says it is. Imagine driving your car in your state and then hitting the state line where the next state required you to drive on the opposite side of the road. There is no need for such deliberate confusion. Nor are such radical differences in Freemasonry from one state to another so as to make them like night and day a great way to operate Freemasonry in the 21st century. We are not a land of 51 countries. And today’s Mason is so much more mobile than his 18th and 19th century ancestors.
To cement their authority and ensure that they have a free hand in all that they do, American Masonry invented the Rite of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction. As a friend and Brother from South Carolina told me, anything that is not part of the Mainstream Grand Lodge of South Carolina is clandestine Masonry even if it has a recognizable charter and even if it also practices regular Freemasonry. That takes care of any competition that might be an outlet to overbearing tyranny. Monopolies everywhere, however, are known as abusers of power. There are many clandestine Grand Lodges that do a better job of Masonry than the monopolies of Mainstream Freemasonry. Most, however, would not exist if abuses were not allowed.
I firmly believe that returning Freemasonry to a philosophy embracing scholarship and study and to a charitable organization rather than a charity will solve many of these problems. But the Conference of Grand Masters is still going to have to come up with a way to discipline the Craft.
I wonder what the world would look like today if in 1940 we had told the Japanese that we would not interfere in their conquest of all of Asia and if we had just ignored Hitler and let him do whatever he wanted. The United States has no designs of conquest in the world. Still it finds it necessary to interfere in another country’s business when to do otherwise would be to allow horrific injustice and depravity to prevail.
We all say we want the civil courts to stay out of Freemasonry. But when all else fails, when that is all that is left available, when the Conference of Grand Masters refuses to act, then to right wrongs the path chosen will be the one(s) that has not been closed. If Freemasonry refuses to police itself, then civil government will do it for them.
In the end it is possible to move from the path of destruction to the path of instruction and with the right Masonic leadership policing the Craft, to enter a new Golden Age of Freemasonry.